PlayStation Plus Or Minus - Why The Price-Hike May Be A Good Thing
I, like many of you, awoke in a cold sweat a couple of nights ago. My spider senses were tingling and something felt wrong with the force. I checked my phone, no emergency text messages or missed calls, my wife was sleeping soundly, and my kids (at 2 and 4 years of age) were by some miracle doing the same… so what was wrong? I couldn’t put my finger on anything until I did what any sleep-deprived adult does – opens their phone and doom-scrolls when they should really be banking more rest – and what I found startled me.
PlayStation Plus, my beloved PlayStation Plus, a service that I have extracted so much delight from over the years, and had even persisted with at the top tier here in Australia, despite PlayStation deeming that we Australians were incapable of handling Premium and the associated streaming of PS3 games (despite most of us absolutely being capable of it), is jacking up its prices, and it’s created a bit of consternation amongst fans. That disturbance in the force awoke me that night, and the implications of PlayStation’s decision have been bubbling in my mind ever since, and so, with that said, here are the reasons for and against PlayStation Plus’ price rise.
The case for the price rise might be harder to justify for consumers, but there are several factors, both forward-facing and behind the scenes that make this price rise, as painful as it may be on the hip pocket, a great thing for the future of the service.
In April of 2023, Mat Piscatella of the US-based analysis group Circana (formerly the NPD Group) concluded, “Growth of video game subscription spending has stalled. According to Circana’s Games Market Dynamics reporting, April ’23 sub spending in the US was only 2% higher than April ’22. Finding new subscribers beyond the console ownership base has proven very difficult thus far.” Now consider that this growth is across all platforms, with some platforms being incredibly proactive in their spread around the wider market, like Gamepass’ spread across PC and mobile, while the likes of Nintendo Switch Online and PlayStation Plus have remained focused on their already established audiences – you would expect that the bulk of the heavy lifting done in this 2% growth is likely to be driven by the Xbox brand.
So if fans are looking to get more from their PlayStation Plus subscription, but growth is remaining fairly static, what does PlayStation need to do? Well firstly, they’re an organisation in the business of making money, and so they need to firstly maximise that, so a price-hike achieves that. Surely Sony has looked at their data and made forecasts expecting to lose a percentage of subscribers (or see downgrades in their subscription), but that this will be more than offset by the profits made from those who retain their subscription at the higher price.
That’s all well and good if you’re a champion of the PlayStation brand and simply want them to succeed, but there is also a great many of us who want to get maximum value from their subscription, so let’s assess recent trends in PlayStation Plus. In what was roughly the first year of the platform, those who supported at the Extra tier, received a consistent and fairly generous number of additions to the platform each month, but rarely did they ever get a day-and-date release on the platform. In fact, there was one for the majority of the first year – Stray, but in recent months we’ve seen some changes.
In the last few months alone, a host of brand new, highly anticipated indie games have launched day 1 on PlayStation Plus, including Humanity in April, while in August we’ve seen both Moving Out 2, and the widely acclaimed Sea Of Stars. PlayStation have clearly started to recognise that there is a need to provide more day-and-date launches for the service and have gotten more proactive in that space. To this, they of course need more money, and perhaps with a greater income from subscribers they can take that money and reinvest it in the continued growth of the platform, therefore giving players more of what they want. Increased revenue from Plus might also allow for a greater AAA presence in this space too, with occasional strategic partnerships allowing players the chance to get partnered titles day 1 through Extra as well. Increased income through Plus invites more future opportunity.
We’re all feeling it in different ways these days. The cost of living is on the way up, interest rates are the highest that they’ve been in a long time, inflation is creating strain everywhere, and it’s becoming harder and harder for people to afford their creature comforts, and this of course includes a subscription to their favourite gaming platform/s.
In Australia, the base tier, PlayStation Plus Essential, which gives you the approximately 3 games that rotate in-and-out each month has jumped in price from $79.95* to $95.95* for an annual subscription, while the aforementioned Extra tier has leapt from $134.95* to $169.95* per annum, and finally the most expensive tier in Australia, PlayStation Plus Deluxe gives jumps from $154.95* to $196.95*. These are not insubstantial price increases and players are right in questioning what they’re actually going to get for their extra financial contributions. I’ve already discussed what players should feel like they’re getting at the extra tier, and I feel like if I’m reading the tea-leaves correctly then most fans will feel satisfied with what comes from Extra in the future. Where the problems arise is with the top tiers, both Deluxe and (the currently inaccessible to us) Premium.
Since the launch of the new, tiered PlayStation Plus, fans have bemoaned the lack of titles that were coming to the top tiers of the platform. While in some months we would get a nice sprinkling of titles like Killzone Liberation from the PSP, or the gradual drip feed of PS1/PSP titles from the Syphon Filter IP, and even recently the launch of both Twisted Metal and Twisted Metal 2 to synchronise with the launch of the Peacock/Stan TV series, in other months we’d get little to nothing. To date, the service which claims to offer PS1, PS2, PS3, and PSP titles has provided players nothing new from the PS2, outside of titles that had already been remastered, and the PS3 persists with the same library of titles that is has had since launch day (something that us Aussies cannot access either). For those who are now facing a cost of an additional $40+ each month at the Deluxe/Premium tiers, you would rightly be expecting that PlayStation does more to justify your investment, but based upon their recent pattern of behaviour when it comes to their handling of their classic titles, you would be right to have your doubts.
Another major criticism of this move, one that is extremely hard to ignore or justify is that this is a predatory move, one designed to catch those who finally jump into the PS5 ecosystem due to the impending release of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, the game that is likely to be (outside of Call Of Duty) the biggest selling game of the remainder of the year. Microsoft has recently implemented a similar tactic to Gamepass, coincidentally in the lead-up to the launch of their big title – Starfield – and in the case of both manufacturers, it stinks of greed.
At this point in time it is truly hard to say whether this price rise will end up being a net positive for the platform. Currently, there is a lot of negativity surrounding the service, and that was compounded by a fairly lacklustre serving from the monthly games in the Essential tier. PlayStation has the opportunity to put a lot of these current concerns to rest if they can deliver a few consecutive months of high-quality releases in every tier, paired with some day 1 exclusive freebies through the service, but, if they fail to, I expect the downgrades and potentially even service cancellations to grow. I expect things to improve and the negative sentiment to quickly evaporate, but if the service doesn’t improve following this – look out.
On a purely financial side, PlayStation may be okay with this as the profits will offset the reduced subscriber numbers, but goodwill is not as easy of a thing to hold onto, and, as we’ve seen with Xbox in the last couple of generations, an optical black-eye can take much longer to recover from.
*Author’s Note* For context, I don’t speak from any privileged position, I pay for my own PlayStation Plus subscription, because it’s something that fuels my love of games and my ability to keep writing in this space. My financial situation is not great in this current climate, with very little money to splash around for fun. I come at this piece with an understanding of the audiences perspective (because I’m living it too), but with the willingness to explore the other side of the transaction as well. I hope you can expect all of these factors.